At the 80th Birthday of Mazi Professor Chris Aniche Okorafor (pictured)
Ibeto Hotel, Gudu, Abuja, 16 June, 2018
Let me join the family in welcoming everybody to this celebratory anniversary. It’s appropriate to start by giving God the glory for this day in the life of my teacher and friend, Professor Chris Aniche Okorafor. Permit me to thank his son, Achinivu and his siblings, for setting this day apart and inviting all of us to share in the happy moments of their father’s 80th birthday celebration. The story of Professor Chris Aniche Okorafor, the Vice-Chancellor of Novena University, Ogume, Delta State, is a long but interesting reminiscence of an academic juggernaut, a distinguished consultant, a resourceful manager of men and materials, and a wonderful father, friend and brother to have, very humane in his ways. It is a story
of God’s Grace and Faithfulness because it is a privilege to live up to 80 years in Nigeria and Africa of today. I will explain this a little later. An occasion to reminisce about the life and times of the celebrant is a humbling opportunity, especially if one has been privileged, as I have many years ago, to drink from the fountain of knowledge he exudes. I suspect my invitation to make a formal statement on this occasion about my undergraduate teacher is a derivative of three major factors.
First, it is an acknowledgement of the friendship and perhaps an expression of the quality the Prof found in me as his student. My life’s intersectional path with the celebrant has its root in my undergraduate days as his Accounting student at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, from 1973 to 1977. I guess I was one of his best students too because teachers do not suffer dullards gladly. Second, this friendship continued when, upon completion of my NYSC I was recruited as a Financial Analyst at SKOUP, the renowned Enugu-based firm of Associated Business & Management Consultants, under the leadership of the late Dr. Okigbo.
Professor Okorafor, as the Chief Consultant, was my immediate boss, with my then Head of Department, Mr. Kalu U. Kalu, as a Director. You can immediately see the humbling experience of the only immediate young graduate of the Accountancy Department of UNEC, being sandwiched by both my lecturer and HOD. This teacher-student friendship continued in the workplace was even cemented in the workplace.
Since then, we have largely remained in contact for much of 45 years of our ‘unallocated resources’ on this earth. The terminology ‘unallocated resources’ was Professor Okorafor’s first bamboozling definition of balance sheet in our Advanced Financial Accounting class in 1977, which, by the way, remains a classic definition of accounting balance sheet. I bet the VC might not have a fond memory of this.
It is a definition that is not conceptually understood, even by PhD Accounting students. Let me clarify. In financial accounting, a balance sheet or statement of financial position, is a summary of the financial or monetary balances of a business entity. Those monetary balances, which were not yet allocated or spread over the course of the reporting period, provide a snapshot of the company’s assets and liabilities at that point in time. Resources or assets are things owned by an individual or organization and which not only have future economic value but can provide future economic benefits, expressed in monetary terms, such as cash, investments, land, buildings, equipment, and vehicles. So, you can see that those resources are positive and negative balances (assets and liabilities) that were not allocated, or written off or dispensed in the reporting period. The celebrant’s knowledge base, goodwill, physical assets, investment in the education of children are unallocated positive resources (assets) from which his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends and all those connected with him will draw for a long time to come.
Third, and at the risk of sounding immodest, the elders say if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. It is with pride but with humility that I affirm that Professor Okorafor has directly produced several Professors of Accounting and Finance, of which I happen to be the primus inter pares. Having therefore reached the pinnacle of academic and professional leadership, a feat achieved over 25 years ago, I believe I am qualified to make a formal statement about the celebrant – his sagacity, humility, urbaneness, cosmopolitan yet rooted in the traditions of Arochukwu as Mazi, amiable, brilliant but suffers fools gladly in the character of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:19), ever ready to share knowledge, handsome yet unassuming. There are few men, I have come across, in the mould and mien of my boss and friend. In a sentence, Professor Okorafor’s wisdom, experience, insight, authenticity, and humble and dignified deportment are inspiring.
On these three counts, and perhaps more if time were my friend, if I were to make a list of the key sentiments, memories, wishes or intellectual discussions, I would like to include in my speech, and if you’ve known the celebrant as long as I have, you will excuse me for making a long speech. But, I am restrained and constrained by two factors: one, a speech for an octogenarian academic and one who was your teacher had better be concise and precise because he knows every detail of the account you are recounting and, second, at that age, will never shy away from puncturing your lies or detecting missing links. And one thing about teachers is that the older they get, the more surprisingly they tend to remember even the most elementary things about their students.
Giving patronage to learning and research, my trajectory has continued to evolve in progressive steps with that of my great teacher. Th t both of us are lions is a no-brainer. It is also a joy to have followed him into consultancy upon graduation. Is it therefore a coincidence that I also tailed my teacher in the academic leadership line in holding a professorship in accounting and finance? Ladies and gentlemen, it is obvious, isn’t it? that the celebrant has left his footprints in the sand of time? May God be gracious to all of us below 80 years to be celebrated at 80 too and beyond! Can I hear a chorused Amen!!!
It is claimed that at 80 years old, one’s bones get softer, but arteries get harder, so it balances out. I ask you, does our celebrant look like someone with soft bones? If you have soft bones, you can’t leave an active scholarship, let alone a very active academic and administrative leadership as a Vice-Chancellor. Challenge him to an Ekpe dance, you will see the Dinkpa in the man. Besides, the moderator variable in our celebrant’s case is the sharpness of his brain; that is what sustains him as a Vice-Chancellor. He is handsome, as you all can attest even at 80, effervescent
and of splendid health and noble mien; pleasantly disposed, discreet and even dissimulating like an Aro man; his rather uncommon intellectual qualities relieved by solid common sense; fully alive to his traditional rights and responsibilities.
In one of his jokes, Robert Orben advised older people not to eat health food because they need all the preservatives they can get. I am sure, our Professor knows enough to ignore Robert Orben. Senior birthday speeches, especially of the octogenarian genre are a measured homage to the wisdom of the elderly person and to honour his place in the history of the family, friends and the communities he represents. An 80th birthday is one that will beget a 90th, 100th and more birthday celebrations for this iconic academic. Perhaps, you should write a book on how to achieve this milestone, and then prove Robert Orben wrong.
The statistics of the average life expectancy in Africa, and West Africa, in particular, will help us to appreciate God’s goodness and faithfulness in the life of our celebrant in clocking 80 years. First, the biblical narrative says that it is appointed unto man to live 70 years or by reason of strength 80, even if this span is but toil and trouble (Psalm 90: 10). Second, the vicissitudes of life in Nigeria create numerous health and wealth challenges which truncate lifespan.
So, a healthy, strong and active academic leadership life at 80 is not only a remarkable and privileged milestone but a momentous one worthy of today’s celebration. Statistics confirm that our celebrant’s attainment of 80 years in good, stable and equanimous mind is indeed a nontrivial feat. The Global Index shows that only 82% of people in the world actually live to the age of 65. On average, only 65% of people actually live up to 80 years. In the advanced western societies, the life expectancy for males is 76 years (and 81 years for females). Except North Africa, where life expectancy (71 years for males and 74 years for females) is close to the worldwide average for men and women, the statistics across other African regions paint a bleak and gloomy picture, especially in West Africa. The 2017 statistics in West Africa indicate the average is 55 years for males and 57 years for females, as against Western Europe’s 79 and 84 years for males and females, respectively.
I ask: What is it that prolongs the lives of women worldwide, that gives them this edge in life expectancy? This is a research story for another day.
It was the great American writer and lecturer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, popularly known by his pen name as Mark Twain (30 November 1835 – 21 April 1910), the author of two major classics of American literature: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, who whimsically quipped at his father’s 80th birthday party that “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare an impromptu speech.” Well, I have only had one week to prepare mine.
So, if I sound unstructured, it is not just because of the short time to prepare my speech, but also the fact that I do not have the familial latitude and atmosphere of Achinivu, like Mark Twain. In my own case, it is further the fear of giving the wrong account or tell tales that may be punctured as teachers always do, including yours truly. Besides, he who must speak in parables before elders had better get the content and context right.
From those humble days at Enugu campus to the present, Professor Okorafor has remained steadfast in the mode of a charismatic and erudite Professor, though of a higher intellectual disposition and persuasion than the class act of Glo’s Professor Johnbull. The metaphoric identity of the cast of the erudite Professor Johnbull interprets the character and person of Professor Okorafor and his public reputation, to the extent of possessing particular moral, intellectual and emotional qualities by inference from today’s gathering as a testament to his standing among friends, family members and the academic community. To be sure, he is held in high esteem by his students and colleagues.
An anonymous writer once said that when you’re 80, you have finally given yourself permission to be wrong occasionally, after all you won’t remember it tomorrow anyway. Our celebrant is in a position to corroborate or disprove that hypothesis. In the words of Mark Twain, life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18. That is an interesting scenario. George Burns believes that by the time you’re 80 years old, you’ve learnt everything: you only have to remember it. That is more so if you are an erudite Professor, who is like a vintage bottle of wine which gets better with age.
A man was invited to propose a toast for an 80-year old birthday party, he began by asking the celebrant: How does it feel to be 80? He got a response which said: Feel for yourself! Bonnidette Lantz claimed that on her 80th birthday, she hoped to be jumping out of an airplane or swimming with the sharks. I don’t think Prof would listen to that advice.
Certainly, I won’t do that when I get to that auspicious milestone. Again, Bonnidette Lantz wished at 80, “I hope to look back at my life and say, I have no regrets”. I think, our dear celebrant, distinguished Professor of Accounting, Vice-Chancellor, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, and whatever else he is to each and every one of us, can look back at his life and say too “I have no regrets”. Machiavelli said, “the first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the people he has around him.” We can estimate Prof’s quality and intelligence by looking at the people gathered here to celebrate his life. If this gathering provides the cast for the story of his 80 years’ sojourn on this earth, then all of us here form the supporting roles in his life. Today, I join your children, family and friends to offer you our gratitude and loving best wishes. Personally, I feel very privileged to have a friend like you. You’ve been an amazing role model, supporter, adviser, confidant and friend. I can only hope that the rest of my journey on earth is as full of love, joy, happiness and travel as yours.
As I conclude with paraphrasing aspects of the poem by Helen Steiner Rice to capture the special nature of this occasion, I say to you Sir, that you are a golden chain to each and every person associated with you, whose shared moments are so dear. And like a rare and precious jewel, the older you are the more you are treasured. We celebrate you today with a love that’s deep and true, rich with happy memories, and fond recollections, too. Time can’t destroy its beauty. For, as long as memory lives, years can’t erase the pleasure and joy your relationship gives. Your life is a priceless gift, that can’t be bought or sold. To have a person like you is worth far more than gold. And the golden chain of relationship is a strong and blessed tie, binding kindred hearts together as the years go by. Sir, may your 80th birthday be as unforgettable as your first kiss, your wedding day or the birth of your children and grandchildren, in effect, as unforgettable as you.
I wish you Happy Birthday and many happier, prosperous, and peaceful life
and service to the academic community, Arochukwu society, Nigeria and the world at large.
Happy birthday Sir.
Thank You for Listening!!!
By Professor Wilson E. Herbert (KSC) PhD (Glasgow)
CFE CMC CPA CPFA CrFAF FAIA FCFIA FCIA FCNA FCTI FIMC FNIMN MNES MNIM
Professor of Accounting & Financial Management